Politics & Policy

Airwaves of Victory

If there are conservative surprises today, thank a few great Americans.

A few weeks ago, the blogosphere was abuzz about a YouTube. This time it was one a presidential hopeful could love. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney slapped down a rambling, pretentious reporter from the Boston Globe with a little humor.

Governor: “Do you have a point of view on this?”

Reporter: “I represent the people, governor.”

Governor: “No, I represent the people, you represent the media.”

The Right blogosphere ate it up. They loved it like they would come to love another video, this time of Second Lady Lynne Cheney putting CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on the spot one recent Friday afternoon on The Situation Room on the topic of the network’s airing of enemy propaganda — snipers taking out our troops.

LC: Right. But what is CNN doing running terrorist tape of terrorists shooting Americans? I mean, I thought Duncan Hunter asked you a very good question, and you didn’t answer it. Do you want us to win?

WB: The answer, of course, is we want the United States to win. We are Americans. There’s no doubt about that. You think we want terrorists to win?

LC: Then why are you running terrorist propaganda?

WB: With all due respect, with all due respect, this is not terrorist propaganda.

LC: Oh, Wolf . . .

But imagine for a moment if this kind of challenge to the media reached the highest level. Imagine a President Mark R. Levin exclaiming in the middle of a press conference: “Stop wasting my time, you dope.” It’s what some of us dream about a president or press secretary saying to David Gregory.

Ah. Smell the fresh air of unfiltered, I-don’t-need-to-be-diplomatic honesty! Welcome to the world not of practical politics, but of radio. A radio that politics wouldn’t be the same without.

***

“Let freedom ring!”

The Sean Hannity anthem — a country song by Martina McBride — filled the Farm and Home Center in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, two weekends ago. The popular radio (and TV) talk-show host flew in to rally the most Republican Keystoners to get out the vote for their hurtin’ incumbent Rick Santorum.

Many of those gathered could be heard endorsing Hannity for president — sometimes in a murmur, sometimes much more loudly. These were serious fans.

They’re fans because Hannity’s a smart, funny guy, but also because they’ve long hungered for an alternative. Talk to a few people and you’ll hear a few constants — criticisms of the liberal media and slams of the same and of liberal politicians (like Bob Casey Jr.) for not taking the war seriously. If these Pennsylvanians weren’t spending so much time working on their farms and their homes, they’d probably be on The Corner. But you betcha they’ll be voting today — and were working the phone banks last weekend — and getting their friends and neighbors and Christmas-card list, as they were implored, to do the same for Senator Santorum. They’ll do their part to Deliver Us From Evil (the title of Hannity’s most recent book) by reelecting Santorum, who sees “The Gathering Storm” for what it is.

In remarks that, like his show, were highly intoxicating in this crowd, Hannity took issue with Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Dick Durbin. Focusing on the war, he said that “this election . . . means everything.” He went on to compare Rick Santorum to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan — and George W. Bush — “the right men in the right place at the right time.” Of Santorum, Hannity said, “I’ve seen many politicians in my day but I’ve seen very few leaders.”

“We need a presidential turnout,” he told those enthusiastically gathered. “Are we ready to confuse and confound the pollsters, columnists, and our friends in the liberal media?”

They certainly sounded like they were. And with the 380,000 new voter contacts the Santorum campaign reports making connections with this weekend, maybe, just maybe they do have a fighting chance to confuse and confound every political observer.

One thing is for sure: If Santorum wins, Hannity will no doubt be among those who get a heartfelt thank-you call.

***

In recent days Santorum, George Allen, Jon Kyl, and even Mike DeWine have been on most of the cool shows. Senator Allen has few more faithful defenders than constituent Mark Levin. But it’s not just politicians in tough fights who owe conservative talkers their thanks. The broader world of ideas, too, owes a great debt of gratitude to right-wing talk radio. If Republicans aren’t slaughtered Tuesday night, they’ll have Rush, Sean, Laura, Mark, Bill, and Hugh, among others, to thank.

I’m forever grateful when a Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity reads from or otherwise points his listeners to an NRO piece. They have power — the power to reach people who might not have the time to regularly read “The Corner” or other parts of NRO and National Review, but who might, while multitasking — working, cleaning, picking up the kids from school — tune in to Rush or Sean. And Rush and Sean bring them a daily dose of Right thinking in their talented, entertaining ways.

They have a real challenge too. For some folks, what they hear on these talk shows — and a whole host of others — may be the most they really get to hear about some of the most important issues of the day. And certainly from that refreshing slant.

I can’t tell you how many times a Left Coaster has told me “Dennis Prager made me a conservative.” That’s no small thing. And a mighty power. And with great power comes great responsibility.

But if even a casual look (or listen) is any indication, they’re doing well.

Let’s take the case of the man who invented Excellence in Broadcasting, Rush Limbaugh.

One of the most important stories of the midterm-election year may wind up being Amendment 2 in Missouri. You no doubt already know all about that — or at least the Rush Limbaugh vs. Michael J. Fox aspect of it. What got lost in the controversy about some of Limbaugh’s on-air actions (seen via webcam screen captures) was what he was really trying to do: to point out some of the misleading aspects of Fox’s ads in support of candidates who back clone-and-kill embryonic-stem-cell research. In any case, whatever most of the mainstream media homed in on, Limbaugh managed to bring more attention to the issue than anyone since Amendment 2 became a ballot issue in Missouri. As late as Monday afternoon he was debunking yet another anti-Jim Talent ad claiming Talent is against all stem-cell research (no one I know is against stem-cell research, just embryo-destroying research).

Missouri isn’t the first state to tackle cloning, but this fight over Amendment 2 stands out. Rarely is the word “cloning” used in these debates. It’s largely disinformation, with a few truth-tellers fighting the good fight largely alone. But this time was different, and talk radio made the difference. Rush Limbaugh, in particular, made a top-of-the-fold, first-segment kind of difference. If Amendment 2 goes down — which internal GOP polls Tuesday indicated is certainly possible — humanity will owe Rush Limbaugh for the huge fight he managed to get himself into. It’s not the first time the conservatism will owe Rush for his dedication and clarity.

In the case of Amendment 2, Laura Ingraham, too, among others, will deserve a special thanks, for making such clear and adamant arguments on TV — The Today Show, The O’Reilly Factor — against the initiative. She — like Rush on his show during all the hours the “drive-by media” didn’t cover — refused to give into the storyline the “dinosaur media” wanted to pursue (Rush vs. Alex P. Keaton!) and instead filled the airwaves with facts about stem-cell research and cloning.

***

Whatever happens today, tomorrow another campaign begins — one that, frankly, is already in full swing, and on talk radio too. Media star (he’s cameoed on 24, for Pete’s sake) Arizona senator John McCain recently made his first appearance on Laura’s show, to mixed reviews. He has never appeared on Rush’s show and would be wise to do some repair work on that front. Mitt Romney has become at home on conservative radio (with some loyal fans on the conservative Internet as well … ahem). Expect the 2008 race to continue to play out early and often with the Right talkers.

But before that, let’s see how much they are able to salvage a GOP Congress that couldn’t save itself. It would be unfair to blame the radio guys for losses; in this atmosphere they had some very tough material to work with. If the Dems don’t win overwhelmingly, though, that was some rallying effect moving through the airwaves and getting out the vote.

  –  Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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